A Day in the Life of a Study Abroad Student in Shanghai

By Jillian Smith

For anyone interested in studying abroad in China, know that you will be making one of the most rewarding decisions of your life. But also know that the reward is due to both incredible fun and the satisfaction of knowing you are overcoming something that is difficult and far outside of what is likely your comfort zone.

This past Friday, I noted everything that happened, providing a snapshot into what it is like to study abroad in the Middle Kingdom.

7 a.m.: Wake up — Chinese class doesn’t start until nine, but getting up early is crucial because this is when we all study. Chinese is by far the most difficult of our subjects, both regarding the material and the expectations of our teachers. The extra hour of study time is a huge benefit. I also cook myself a bowl of oatmeal and make myself a cup of tea. Coffee is not as much of a thing here.

9 a.m.: Class — Chinese class lasts for three hours. It is intense.

12:15 p.m.: Lunch — My friends and I walk to a place called Xiao Mei Yuan. It is cheap, fast, good and overflowing with unlimited rice. I like this place in particular for an egg pancake that is stuffed with shrimp and scallions.  Shanghai is incredibly walkable, and little street food stalls line every avenue. Steamed buns, grilled pork sticks, or something like a tofu sloppy Joe is all readily available, and at most will put you out ten kuai (which is about a dollar).

1 p.m.: The Metro is absolute chaos. Even locals hate it. Roughly 30 million people live in this city, and it seems that half of them are on the public transportation system at any given time. Still, it is incredibly clean, and there are rarely any major issues, just a massive snaking wall of humanity in which everyone pushes past each other.

1:30 p.m.: Arrive at the American Chamber of Commerce — I intern for the Chamber’s Publications & Communications Department. While there, I draft articles for our newsletter, edit other articles that are submitted to us and keep our website updated. The Chamber is a membership organization of American businesses with a presence in Shanghai. It first started in 1912, and has continued to serve as a liaison between U.S. and Chinese business interests.

6 p.m.: Arrive back on campus — I live in a dorm with roughly 30 other students from all over the U.S., and by this time we have all become fairly close. I get dinner with them most nights. Tonight it was at a tiny soup stand that is like a Chipotle, but for soup. You get your pick of Chinese vegetable (bok choy, Chinese cabbage, etc.), noodle (rice noodle, egg noodle, wheat noodle) and protein (tofu, chicken, pork). I have legitimately thought about making this a thing back home.

9 p.m.: Wine tasting — It was our friend’s birthday, so we went to an upscale wine bar in the heart of the French Concession, the former colonial area which still has a strong European influence. Shanghai is incredibly international, so at this wine tasting, I was able to chat with an Indian about Modi’s currency reform efforts and a Russian about U.S.-Russia relations in the postelection era.

Shanghai is huge, the lifestyle is fast paced, and the people work extremely hard. I have gained valuable friendships with people from all over the world. The surreal feelings of being in a place so delightfully foreign. The perspective gained from talking to a populace that has an entirely different worldview from my own has made me confident that traveling to China is one of the best decisions I could have ever pursued. Plus, the food is incredible.

If you are a student who has considered studying abroad, I encourage you to do so, especially in a place where it is not necessarily easy to do so.